We are both very aware that everywhere we go I overly wax lyrical about how lovely it is and then we have set ourselves up for nothing else being as good. We really did wonder if Romania could live up to where we had been previously. Absolutely it does, especially when it comes to Transylvania and then it nails it and then some. We have driven over mountains, along ridges and through villages that should be on the outside of a biscuit tin. Even in the rain we could not believe how beautiful it was and how much there is to see on top of the scenery. When we came to a weeny hamlet called Podu Dâmboviţei we saw a few statues along the road side, then we came across these at the edge of the village. From what we understand its called ‘Wedding Zamfirei’ and depicts a traditional Romania wedding, this was the wedding venue and the other statues along the roads are on route to the celebration.
Up in the mountains at a lay-by lunch stop we met the lovely Darina. Despite that neither she or I could speak the same language we established the cheese is made by her daughter and it has never been kept in the fridge, not the best sales pitch I have heard! She wanted to sell us whole round for £5 but we only wanted a quarter for which she wanted a 1/3 of the cost – I know fail for us but she was stood out all day in the cold trying to make a living so its all fine. She kept trying to get Iain out of the van, he wasn’t keen as he thought she wanted to swap him for a cheese! She mimed to get the camera out and started posing for photos, a very lovely lady who despite living a tough life was a joy to meet.
Darina with her very dubious cheese and homemade drinks
To get from A to B we have used what we could loosely terms roads, if we get out of here with the van in one piece we will be amazed. No matter how slowly or carefully Iain drives things are falling out all over the place, some of the potholes coming up the mountains were at least 6 inches deep. As we reached the high points of Mount Bucegi we experienced a little snow, there was very little settling but large enough flakes to cause a bit of excitement. As we followed the road down the views over the Carpathians were stunning with hundreds of little villages nestled along the ridges in the valleys, the only problem is each time you stop a pack of 10-15 feral dogs pounces in case you have spare food. They are’t vicious but the sight of the bigger packs is a bit daunting, we have picked up a few odd strays for a walk through as they seem very eager to befriend you.
The main event then this week was of course Dracula’s Castle. Before anyone else tells us its not the real Dracula’s castle – it is (it’s not Vlad the Impala’s castle but he is actually a different fella, sometimes known as Vald Dracul). The castle in Bran is called Dracula’s castle purely because it’ts the only one in Romania that resembles the one in Bram Stoker’s book. We expected a castle in the middle of no-where and maybe a tourist stall or two. We are way behind the Romanian’s cottoning on to tourism, the best to describe what we found was Blackpool! There must be over 150 shacks and sheds around the castle selling souvenirs, if you can think of something they can put a vampire on then its for sale, as we drove through Sunday there were tour buses galore, car-parks were full and it could have given any attraction at home a good run for it’s money. The village is full of guest houses, big hotels and restaurants, mainly modern and probably built in the last 20 years. Dotted between the modern hotels are the small farms that were here long before mass tourism, and in a few derelict houses the gypsies have set up home. It’s a very mixed bag and we certainly were not prepared for it. We settled in at Vampire Camping (another lovely campsite owner who opened up specially for us) and waited for Monday to make our foray into the crowds.
Away from the main village looking back to the castle
Monday morning we arrived at the castle to a sign that said it’s closed on a Monday! Iain checked with a security person who said it is open but only half day, so the sign must be just to annoy visitors then? we went for a shopping spree around the tatt stalls and a bit of lunch whilst we waited. We met with an Australian family of seven touring Eastern Europe for five months by car and using hotels. The dad was telling us the worst bit is paying for loos when they are out – seven people going twice a day at a couple of € a day was not in his budget -we did the maths and could see his point! Everyone you meet has a story to tell and we both liked that one very much, its so much more interesting than how much a hotel costs.
It cost us LEU 30 each to get in the castle (about £5) where we took the tour through the castle at the speed at the rest of the throng of tourists. Inside the castle they do dwell more on the actual history of the castle than the fiction, supposedly the heart of Queen Marie is kept in a casket there, luckily we didn’t seen that. Take away the Disney-esque and its a very beautiful castle worth visiting for itself. Add in the Count Dracula connection and it has to be said it does make for castle visit with a difference.
Bran Castle – aka Dracula’s castle
Bran Castle inner courtyard
We wanted to see and drive the Transfagarasan Pass whilst we were here (probably most famous as the road Top Gear called the most beautiful in the world when they did a road trip over it a few years back). It is also known as Ceaușescu’s Folly, he had the road built between 1970 and 1974 as a strategic military route with switchbacks that run north to south along the highest sections of the Southern Carpathian mountains for 90 km. The middle section is only open for three months in the summer so we couldn’t make the whole drive. Our host here at the campsite tells us you can go over the top on a camel in the snow as part of an organised trip, alas we made do with a trip up to the road closure and the views over to the snow capped mountains, if ever there was a reason to visit Romania in summer it must be the chance to drive the whole of this road in a motorhome.
Rightly known as one of the most beautiful roads in the world
Its now 18 days since we left Greece, we have still not seen one other motorhome or campervan of any nationality anywhere in either Bulgaria or Romania. The Woolly Wanderers were here a couple of weeks before us and we never quite caught up with them but other than them it seems Romania is very much ours. It may be that people don’t come because campsites don’t generally open until April or May but we have found that if we call and ask they are happy to open early for a night or two. The weather is becoming better by the day so we are going to get the bikes off and visit a few of the villages in the area over the next couple of days.
Local transport – as many of this model at the petrol variety in the villages